Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is alive once again, Kirk (William Shatner) and company are now wanted for crimes against the Federation and an alien probe is destroying Earth’s oceans for no apparent reason. The crew discovers that the signal the probe produces are the songs of humpback whales, a species long extinct. With no other choice, they travel back in time to the mid-80s to hopefully find some specimens they can bring back with them to save their homeworld.
I’ll just say it outright – I am not a fan of this entry. The lame comedy absolutely kills this movie for me. We’ve had two movies in a row that were dark and violent, and then suddenly this one is all unicorns and rainbows. It’s a jarring change-up and as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t work. I wouldn’t have been opposed to there being comedy mixed in to lighten up the story, I just have a problem that what is in there is so goofy and out of place (“Double dumb ass on you!”) that it is more than a little annoying. Seeing Kirk swing and miss when hitting on the Gillian character, while an amusing contradiction when compared to the series, is handled in an awkward way and the scene drags on and on due to it. Everyone loves the “nuclear wessels” scene, but I always cringe when I see it. I just don’t find it nearly as funny as people seem to think it is.
There’s a scene that bugs the crap out of me, and that is when Chekov gets hurt and Kirk, McCoy and Gillian have to rescue him from a hospital. It really serves no purpose other than to pad the runtime and give the cast yet another pointless thing to do. If you think about it all they had to do was get their ship operational and beam him up, but Nimoy and company decided it would be more exciting if there was a makeshift covert op instead. It’s lamesauce.
I do understand that the filmmakers were trying to fit in a topical main theme about the eradication of many animal species via hunting and other means, but I feel like I’m being beaten over the head with it whenever I watch this flick. Usually Star Trek disguises its true intentions, sometimes through metaphor, but it’s rarely this blatant and obvious. It’s not really a complaint since I found it awesome that they finally decided to include a message like in the old days, I just think it could have been handled in a more interesting and less preachy way.
Another qualm I have is in regards to the score. It absolutely sucks. James Horner came up with some beautiful and epic compositions for The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, but for some reason he didn’t come back for this sequel. Instead we are treated to Leonard Rosenman’s horribly cheesy Irish jig sounding music which is just flat out awful, especially the popish track when the crew first walks through 1980s San Francisco. Even though Rosenman scored over a hundred films in his long career (Fantastic Voyage, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Sybil, Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, Barry Lyndon) his style never changed and sounds like it was written for an entirely different movie.
Shatner and the rest of the main cast do get some decent character moments, Nimoy especially as a Spock who is virtually unable to interact with his crewmates on a personal level due to his recent revival. Watching him slowly inch closer to the Spock we all know and love is one of the high points of the film. DeForest Kelley and James Doohan have some great scenes together and generate the only genuine laughs in the film. Walter Koenig’s Chekov gets some extra screen time too when he is captured on a naval vessel and unsuccessfully attempts to talk his way out of being arrested (“This guy’s some sort of a retard or something”). George Takei and Nichelle Nichols are wasted yet again and don’t really do much of anything. Guest star Catherine Hicks, who plays Gillian the oceanographer and love interest to Kirk, is charming and cute as a button at times, grating on the nerves at others. It’s funny knowing that her character was originally written for Eddie Murphy.
At the conclusion all is right in the world. The planet is saved, humpback whales are not extinct in the future, all the charges against the crew are dropped (bullshit), Kirk is demoted to Captain and is given an all new Enterprise to command (double bullshit). It’s super sappy, but after all the hardships and loss these characters went through over the last two films it serves as a sigh of relief. I don’t agree with the choices made in the finale, but whatever. At least it allows for another sequel.
As the conclusion of the “trilogy” I have always found this film wanting. It didn’t go in the direction I wanted it to and pandered to the audience in my eyes. No one wants dark stories anymore. Let’s play it safe! My ass. The prologue was amazing, the meat of the story was pretty good and the epilogue is meh.
But I will give it props for this… I don’t dislike it nearly as much as the following film.